People have practiced yoga for centuries. Yoga’s not just for yogis — it’s also pretty legit for athletes.
We spoke with some of the smartest yoga instructors in the country to understand which poses are especially beneficial to athletes, and how you can get started with them. Here’s what they recommended.
Sitting in class or at a computer can do a number on your body—especially if you are hunched over. The forward-flexed position causes your hip flexor and chest muscles to tighten, limiting hip and shoulder mobility. “Poses such as Half Locust, Camel, Bridge, Wheel, Floor Bow, and Standing Backbends, counterbalance this by bringing the body into extension, stretching the chest and shoulder muscles, and strengthening the back,” declares Kiersten Mooney, a Baptise Yoga instructor, and owner of Bala Vinyasa Yoga (Naples, Fla.).
How to do it: Lie face down with your hands at your sides and palms facing up. On an exhale, lift your lower legs and bring your heels as close to your buttocks as you can, then reach back with your hands and clasp your ankles. Keep your knees hip-width apart; don’t let them stray wider. On an inhale, lift your ankles away from your buttocks and your thighs off the floor. Keep your tailbone pressed into the floor and your back muscles relaxed. Gaze upward and breathe as you hold for 20 to 30 seconds.
Another pose that fixes poor posture. “This pose strengthens the back and develops the muscles that surround the spine,” explains Shaun Sterling, a yoga instructor and co-owner of Bodywize Athletic Development (Warrensville Heights, Ohio). “It can help realign the spine and eliminate forward rounded shoulders.”
How to do it: Lie on your back and bend your knees to set your feet flat on the floor in front of you. Place your heels as close to your “sit bones” (the bottom of your buttocks) as possible. Exhale and press your arms and feet to the floor to raise your pelvis off the ground. Clasp your hands on the ground underneath your lower back and keep your thighs and feet parallel. Hold for 30 seconds to a minute.
The Pigeon is a traditional yoga hip-opener pose that may be difficult for some to master but is extremely effective at improving mobility. You will definitely feel this one in your hips and butt. Mooney recommends that athletes try the Half Pigeon, while Kimberly Fowler, founder of YAS Fitness Centers, recommends the Reclining Pigeon “because it’s easier on the knees.”
How to do Half Pigeon: Start on all fours with your hands slightly in front of your shoulders. Slide your right knee to your right wrist, so your right shin is on the floor perpendicular to your torso. Slowly slide your left leg behind you until the front of your left thigh is on the floor. Keep the toes of your right foot dorsiflexed (pointing toward your shin) as you lower into what will be an intense stretch through your right hip and buttocks. Hold for a few breaths, then exhale and lower your torso over your right inner thigh, stretching your arms forward. Hold the position for a minute, lift up and out of the pose, and repeat with your left leg forward.